Governments may have deliberately allowed migrants to permeate borders to enable mass import of exploitable labour, says research from the London School of Economics

James Nickerson
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Migrants Attempt To Get Through The Greek/Macedonian Border
The migrant workforce fits the needs of Greece's large informal labour market (Source: Getty)

The border controls set up by governments allowing migrants to bypass them may have been set up as a deliberate plan to boost domestic economies and garner political support, according to new research.

A study at the London School of Economics found that migrants have often been essential to domestic political and economic interests, such as serving the needs of large informal labour markets that rely on cheap labour.

But the study, focussing on Greece, found that policies of border control which purport to exclude migrants can actually be imperfect by design.

"Governments may adopt policies and promote practices that essentially relax border controls so as to enable the mass import of exploitable migrant labour," the research said.

Read more: EU and Turkey close in on migrant resettlement deal

It added: "State policies restricting welfare and employment rights, combined with tolerance or even active support towards practices of violent intimidation, serve to bolster migrants’ exploitability in the labour market."

The research focuses on Greece due to its exceptionally high levels of undocumented migrants and the fact it is at the heart of the migrant crisis, but has implications for other European governments.

Last year, more than a million people entered the EU by boat, mostly travelling from Turkey to Greece, with 13,000 people currently stuck on Greece's border with Macedonia.

The research argues Greece is a destination for migrants not just because of its borderline and tougher policing of borders elsewhere. It is also a destination because the "Greek state has in the past introduced policies that have helped to maintain the size of the irregular migrant population, not only engaging in piecemeal attempts at blocking irregular migration routes into Greece, but also failing to facilitate processes of asylum, regularisation, deportation, or even voluntary repatriation for migrants without papers".

Read more: Over one million people reached Europe by sea in 2015

In fact, the research says that Greece has used no more than €40m of the €250m euros of EU funding for immigration and asylum management.

That's because, the paper argues, the workforce fits the needs of Greece's large informal labour market.

But in Greece the public often perceives the migrants as a threat to society and blamed for crime, a rhetoric which has been fanned by political parties, in order to bolster their support. This, in effect, further heightens migrants' exploitability in the workplace.

Dr Leonidas Cheliotis of LSE said: "There are, to be sure, segments of the Greek public that have treated migrants with humanity and respect – attitudes also extended to refugees more recently."

"And, in any case, responsibility for the ways in which immigrants are treated on Greek soil does not reside exclusively within Greece itself, not to mention that the case of Greece is not without parallels elsewhere in Europe. But these caveats should not obfuscate immigrants’ plight in the country, nor of course could they plausibly excuse it," he added.

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